Tag Archives: Bible

Culture Wars and Fear of Uncertainty

The culture wars are raging again in my country. The most recent flare-up took place last week when two states (Arkansas and Indiana) toyed with legislation that could be used to restrict liberties of gay and lesbian citizens. In both instances the out-cry was so fierce that the state legislatures and governors had to back down and modify their stance in the face of certain economic back-lash.

I see the core issue that is always on the table with this “war” is certainty itself. Hyper-conservative people cannot tolerate change as it jeopardizes dimensions of their life which they have held to be beyond question. This is because their “certainty” is not based on any underlying and thus unifying Reality but on what they see as “objective fact” much like was the case with those who once felt the earth was flat.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni today demonstrated how many conservative Christians cling to a dogmatic interpretation of the Bible rather than risk the uncertainty they would encounter if they dared to practice the theological practice of “hermeneutics.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html?hpw&rref=opinion&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well)

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A Van Gogh Observation about Christ

I think that Christians can learn a lot about their faith from people from outside of the fold, people who have not been “Christianized” into their faith much like a machine-line product. Those of us raised in a Christian culture have to be careful that our faith is not merely something that we have imbibed from the atmosphere of our life much like other parts of our identity—gender roles, political affiliation, affiliation with the “local sports team”, etc.

Now I am not at artist though I am married to one and have learned a lot from her as I have had to recognize and learn to live with someone who looks at the world differently than I do. She also brings a different perspective to my faith from time to time, not having been “Christianized” as I have been. And I receive weekly emails from another artist, Robert Genn, who also has interesting things to share about space which are often relevant to spirituality. Today I want to share with you an observation about Jesus made by Vincent Van Gogh which I found really interesting. He saw Jesus as an artist but an artist whose medium was the human spirit and life.

I can well understand that you were a trifle surprised to hear how little I liked the Bible, although I have often tried to study it more thoroughly. Only its kernel—Christ—seems to me, from an artistic point of view, to stand higher than, or at any rate to be somewhat different from Greek, Indian, Egyptian, and Persian antiquities, although these also stood on a very high plane. But, I repeat, this Christ is more of an artist than all artists—he worked in living spirits and bodies—he made men instead of statues.

(This quote shared by one of my favorite bloggers, a Quaker who lives in England, whose blog is titled, “Finding God in 365 Days”)

Richard Rohr and the Ambivalence of Spirituality

I am sharing on this occasion Richard Rohr‘s blog as I have done occasionally.  I will say as I usually do, I really should just shut up and post the link to Rohr’s blog on my blog each day.  He says everything I could ever want to say and more.  But, if I did that, then I wouldn’t have any fun in my life, would I?

Richard appreciates the literary nature of the Bible.  He sees it as a “story’ and therefore needing interpretation.  And, if you think about it, our own life and the life of humankind and of the universe itself is a “story” and it is the job of each generation to interpret this story…and various parts of it…and make it meaningful to the contemporary world.  Richard does an excellent job in this hermeneutic endeavor with the Christian story.

 

 

A Big Surprise Meditation 16 of 49

I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever, and revealing them to the little ones. (Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25)

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it, and those who deem themselves “morally successful” are often the last to learn it.

If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection (like God does), rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond any imperfection.

It becomes sort of obvious once you say it out loud. In fact, I would say that the demand for the perfect is often the greatest enemy of the good. Perfection is a mathematical or divine concept; goodness is a beautiful human concept. We see this illusionary perfectionism in ideologues and zealots on both the left and the right of church and state. They refuse to get their hands dirty, think compromise or subtlety are dirty words, and end up creating much more “dirt” for the rest of us, while they remain totally “clean” and quite comfortable in their cleanliness.
Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
pp. xxii-xxiii

 

A Poetic Paean to Burgeoning Spring

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth forth his handiwork.”  And this is the time of the year when this glory is so manifest as the earth begins again to blossom, a magnificent delight I’ve been part of for sixty one years.  And it gets more delightful each year as I am more attentive to this unfolding and conscious that a parallel unfolding is present in my heart and life.

We can worship God, find attunement with Him, in so many ways.  We can worship him formally with other people in organized religion, we can worship Him in work and play, we can worship him in psalm and hymn, and we can worship him in careful attention to the beauty of his natural world.  And “attention” is a critical word for I think early in our life we learn to put blinders on and live with only cursory awareness of our world, including even our own body, by the way.  So, when the beauty of Spring graces us each year, we see it and note, “How pretty” but do so in that cursory fashion without any real attention.  The Buddhists would use the term “mindful” to describe this careful attention.  And this is not to stare at a flower or bird like some zombie and zone out into some alienated bliss.  It is simply to be “aware” from time to time each day.

I would like to share with you a couple of poems by a soon-to-be friend of mine who has this “mindful” awareness.  She is Sue Coppernoll who is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister living in Northwest Arkansas.  My wife has known her for a couple of years and I’ve become familiar with her poetry through her.  And later in this month I will get to meet her.  But she has allowed me to share these two beautiful poems with you, poems in which she echoes the observation of T. S. Eliot that “April is the Cruelist Month” in reference to natures vicissitudes.

The Very First Day, Again

Sunlight streams through slats
In blinds on the window
Birdsong blends with gentle breeze
No Fool she,
April has come to the mountain.

Wild pear, hyacinth, tulips and forsythia
Wreath hills and hollows in glorious array.

Mocking Bird atop the tallest tree
(a redbud about to burst)
Presents her eclectic performance as a gift
To all who would hear – and welcome –
The magic of her songs.

“Get up,” her command issues forth.
“Walk in the grass.
Inscribe your dreams
Upon the cathedral of the sky
With the fingertips of your heart.”

April, who has come to the mountain
Awaits you there
In the splendor of rebirth and renewal
Her hand outreached in welcome
She beckons you to join the dance of life.

Susan Starburst Coppernoll
1 April 2013

Dialogue with April Second

Where’d you go?

Has April left the mountain?

Cloud cover obliterates visions of spring,

Tulips and daffodils bend their heads to the ground,

Battered youngsters in a sea of mud.

How so perfidious, lovely one?

Have you no constancy, no shame?

Birdsong falls silent in the dark of noon,

Yearling rabbits do not parade across the garden,

Squirrel chatter disturbs not our ears.

Whither your promise, April?

Are you gone from us, or hiding?

Lungs eager for respite gasp in the cold air,

Arms prickly with chill reach for a comforting cape,

Feet return to shelter of rain boots.

Do you hear our lament, cruel month?

Shall we cling to anticipation of your return?

Warmed by a glorious glimpse of Earth’s ripening,

We bow in supplication, we nurture in the caverns of our hearts

Dreams of yesterday’s joy, tomorrow’s delight.

Keep the Categories Pure, Keep the Categories Pure!!!!

Not long after I married in 1989, my wife and I were taking a road trip out west. I had already discovered that she was not as anal-retentive as I was…how could I expect otherwise as she was a musician and artist…but this difference became more apparent on this trip.

To make a long story short, we could not keep track of our road maps and related travel information. I had an easy solution to this—keep maps and such in a side-pocket on our respective car doors. But Claire, lacking this god-given (and mandated) anal retentiveness, would use that door pocket for all sorts of stuff—gum, food wrappers, reading material, sun-glasses, newspapers, etc, etc. and pretty soon it was overflowing with all sorts of stuff, so much so that often the road maps and other “pocket material” would end up elsewhere. Thus, when needed a map it could not be found. I was frustrated for, clearly, in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, God had instructed us to “Keep the categories pure” and side-door pockets were meant only for specified material, “specified material” which I was clearly more qualified to define than was she.

After this trip, I was sharing re the trip with a good friend and sharing re frustrations which had arisen, as is always the case when newlyweds travel for the first time. And, I remember emphatically making the point to him…albeit facetiously and self-consciously…that I wanted to scream at her from time to time, “Keep the categories pure! Keep the categories pure, dammit.” Fortunately, and wisely, I knew that sharing my frustration at that point on this matter with her would not have been prudent!

But this anecdote is admittedly so revealing about how my mind works and how alienated I am, how detached I am, how “clinical” I am in my approach to life. Sure, she needed to honor the Old Testament Levitical instruction more closely but my emphasis on this categorization was also very problematic. For, in reality none of us can “keep the categories pure” as I was implying and, as I admit, my first nature dictates. For, reality is not clearly defined and in fact is, ultimately, not defined at all….it is a flux…and our “definitions” are very arbitrary and limiting.

This “categorization” is a verbal or cognitive enterprise and reflects the human penchant for subjecting the whole of reality into cognitive structures, i.e. “thought”, so that he/she can manage and manipulate them and feel that he/she is in control. And, without this ability, we would not be human and we would not have human culture; for culture is an invention, the result of our ability to carve up reality and make it subservient to some purpose even something as simple, and necessary, as the well-being of the group.

But, this carving up can become problematic and I think most observers of the human predicament….particularly the Western expression of this predicament…will agree has become problematic. For, we have come to see the world as our oyster, something to be exploited and used. We have come to see ourselves as separate and distinct from the world and done so to such a degree that could ultimately lead to our demise as a species.

Yes, we must always “categorize” and “think” but we do have a forebrain and with that God-given contrivance we can find the capacity to get outside of ourselves, to “think outside of the box”, and think in less categorical terms, in terms that are more inclusive of others and of the world as a whole. We can come to the point where we no longer see the world as our oyster and see ourselves as part of the world, an expression of the world even, and that the world includes all of us….even those who are different than ourselves! Even more so, it even includes those people who we do not like…cursed be the thought!

To sum it up, we can have our “categories” but the goal is to not worry so much about keeping them “pure” as I have been wont to do. For anybody who actually succeeds in “keeping the categories pure” is certifiably nuts! Fortunately, I never literally went to that extreme! Yes, we can have our “words” and “thoughts” and must have them. But we can realize that they are not to be taken literally, that they are a means to an end, that the astute Buddhist wisdom is very appropriate, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”

 

 

The “Judgment of God” in Tandem with Grace

The concept of “boundaries” did not exist in my youth, at least not in my culture. This concept is one of the most fundamental dimensions of life and I’m pleased to note that now, even in early grade school, teachers and care-givers introduced the concept and reinforce it frequently.

When I think of “boundary” I think of a limit. And it is that, but much more; it is even a beginning. Heidegger once said that boundaries are where the Essential begins its unfolding. He argued that without boundaries there could be no unfolding of the Essential. From his observation, I suggest that without the development of boundaries (which is basically the formation of an “ego”) the child would remain lost in a maze of reptilian-brain impulses, basically a brain stem with arms and legs. And we have all seen adults who are still captivated by this old-brain energy!

Boundaries give us the power of choice. They enable us to make decisions about our impulses and behaviors, determining which ones are appropriate, and whether or not the setting is appropriate for their expression. One simple, but powerful example is sexuality. When sexuality is rearing its ugly head (wink, wink) in a male’s teen years, if he has good boundaries he will know how and when to “make a move” on a winsome young lass, having confidence that his “moves” might be and ultimately will be successful in accomplishing this physical and emotional goal. If his boundaries are poor, he will be rude and offensive, often guilty of what we now call “sexual harassment”, and sometimes even sexual aggressiveness.

This subject is very relevant to the phenomena of “feelings” about which I recently discoursed here. If our boundaries are present and mature, we will own our feelings and embrace them, but not allow them to run amok. I suggest that if they do run amok, it is not actually “feelings” but instinctual energy without the modification of boundaries, that God-given gift of our forebrain. If, on the other hand there are too many boundaries and/or if they are too rigid, there will be still another problem—the person will be pent-up and restricted and often overly moralistic. These “overly moralistic” people will emphasize the “letter of the law” and will probably merit the description “judgmental.” They champion the “judgment of the Lord” over His grace.

Let me illustrate from the New Testament. On one occasion, Jesus cast the money-lenders out of the temple, chasing them with a scourge. On another occasion, at a community well, he encountered a known adulteress and offered her forgiveness, telling her to, “Go and sin no more.” According to the letter of the law, he should have quickly organized a mob and stoned her to death. But he exercised mature judgment and “chose” to offer grace, forgiveness, and love rather than brutal punishment. I suggest that on that occasion Jesus demonstrated “feelings” and “boundaries” working in tandem in a mature fashion. Neither one predominated and he “chose” to exercise grace.

It is so easy to exercise judgment when an offering of love is usually much more appropriate.

 

Heaven on Earth

Here is a poem by W. R. Rodgers, an Irish poet from the 20th century.  He describes a beautiful world that we all long for, a world which can basically be described as Eden or Heaven.  It is a dream we all have and one to which we are all working but one which I don’t think we will ever realize literally.  But we need to seek it, especially to seek it in our own personal life.  I think the opening line is most important, describing a land where all “Is, and nothing’s Ought.”  The tyranny of the “oughts” is the ego run amok.

 

Neither Here Nor There

by W. R. Rodgers

In that land all Is, and nothing’s Ought;
No owners or notices, only birds;
No walls anywhere, only lean wire of words
Worming brokenly out from eaten thought;
No oats growing, only ankle-lace grass
Easing and not resenting the feet that pass;
No enormous beasts, only names of them;
No bones made, bans laid, or boons expected,
No contracts, entails, or hereditaments,
Anything at all that might tie or hem.

In that land, all’s lackadaisical;
No lakes of coddled spawn, and no locked ponds
Of settled purpose, no netted fishes;
But only inkling streams and running fronds,
Fritillaried with dreams, weedy with wishes;
Nor arrogant talk is heard, haggling phrase,
But undertones, and hesitance, and haze;
On clear days mountains of meaning are seen
Humped high on the horizon; no one goes
To con their meaning, no one cares or knows.

In that land all’s flat, indifferent; there
Is neither springing house nor hanging tent,
No aims are entertained, and nothing is meant,
For there are no ends, and no trends, no roads,
Only follow your nose to anywhere.
No one is born there, no one stays or dies,
For it is a timeless land, it lies
Between the act and the attrition, it
Marks off bound from rebound, make from break, tit
From tat, also today from tomorrow.
No Cause there comes to term, but each departs
Elsewhere to whelp its deeds, expel its darts;
There are no homecomings, of course, no goodbyes
In that land, neither yearning nor scorning,
Though at night there is the smell of morning.

W. R. Rodgers
Irish poet 1909-1969